Actions

Work Header

Hearth & Home

Chapter Text

His wife was on the roof of their home when he returned.

Well, no. She was in the roof. He saw her boots lying beside the back door, and her wide feet gripped the wooden beams as she bent through an open slot on the eastern face. She'd removed her overcoat, and her trousers were rolled up to her calves. Whatever she was doing, she was hellbent on completing it. He felt a smile tug at his mouth as he walked closer, pulling the deer he'd caught with him by the antlers. He spotted Atreus on the ground nearby in her garden, preoccupied with a worm he had unearthed from the soil, babbling to it.

"Home is always a welcome sight," he called to her in amusement, setting the deer down by his feet. She grunted and pulled herself up from the hole in the roof. The top half of his wife emerged, covered in dust and looking annoyed.

"Trees!" she said in reply, wiping at her brow and smudging more dust across her forehead. Her hand waved at the forest around them, her expression almost righteous. "They cover the valley, and yet birds decide to nest in our rafters." She sighed and pointed to the beam she had removed from the roof that leaned against the side of the cabin. "Pass me that," she said, and he lifted it up to her. He could see the tangle of a small nest beside her leg—a nest with eggs in it.

"Where is the mother?" he asked, looking up at the sky with concern.

"Out hunting, I'm sure. But I can defend myself from the wrath of crows." She looked down at the deer by his feet, her expression softening as she met his eyes. "You've arrived just when I need you. Make quick with that buck. Atreus is tearing up my garden, and I have to put this nest somewhere."

He looked back at the boy. Small piles of dirt were piled around him, and fist-sized holes lay in their wake. Atreus had not reached her chervil or leeks yet, but he was a quick worker. Kratos scooped the child up in his arm and grabbed the deer with his free one, taking them both around the front. Atreus continued to babble to the worm wrapped around his fingers, content to watch it wriggle around. "I have never met a child who did not eat the the bugs they caught," he said, loudly enough for Faye to hear him as he set Atreus down in the grass beside the tanning rack.

"No," Faye agreed. He could only see the top of her head from here, burning a deep, curled copper in the sunlight. "But he does eat the dirt."

He knelt beside the boy. His cheeks were rosy and smudged with soil, and Kratos frowned. He rubbed the dirt away and pulled back the boy's top lip to inspect his gums, sighing when he saw black smudges on several newly-formed teeth. "Yes, he does," he murmured.

He kept a close eye on Atreus as he skinned and drained any excess blood from the deer, making sure the boy was confined to speaking to the worm. Every once and a while the babbling formed into something coherent. "Sticky," Atreus repeated to his fingers, as if explaining the worm's nature to itself. "Sticky."

He felt a swell of pride, sudden and surprising in its intensity. Their son spoke earlier than any other child he knew of, and he thought with a twinge of amusement that Atreus would likely come to know his mother's language better than Kratos did very soon.

At some point Faye came down from the roof with the nest in hand, watching him as he worked. "He needs a new coat again," she said, kneeling down and prodding at their son's chest. Atreus giggled at the poking, wiggling as the worm did in his hand. "You won't stop growing, will you?"

"This will be more than enough." Kratos nodded to the pelt he'd begun to stretch out on the rack, then wiped his palms on the front of his pants. His hand reached out in offer, and Faye took it with a smile as she stood back up. She leaned in to kiss him, her mouth cool in the spring air, and he pulled her closer. He could smell the dust on her, undercut by the mint soap she had gotten from the caravan a few weeks ago. She had washed recently then. He kissed her back, burying one of his hands into her thick hair and disturbing the loose bun secured at the nape of her neck.

"Do not distract me," she murmured into his mouth, her left arm extended out to hold the nest away from them. " I have no desire to be set upon by a vengeful bird."

"Then make quick with that," he said, smiling as he repeated her order back to her. She laughed and pulled away, letting her hand trail across his shoulder as she walked toward the southern entrance of the forest. He watched her, and knew she knew he was watching, because her hips swayed and her feet criss-crossed in a slow, graceful gait that was entirely unnecessary for walking into a forest to deposit a bird's nest in a nearby tree.

"Faye," he called, not quite a plea.

"Farbauti," she called back fondly over her shoulder. "Find something to distract Atreus." She disappeared into the woods then, her bare feet making light prints in the mud.

He finally tore his gaze away and looked back at their son. Atreus had begun crawling towards the deer, face scrunched with intent. He swept the boy up in his arms, ignoring the grunts of protest. "We must find you some more worms to speak with," he told Atreus, moving swiftly back towards his wife's gardens, the image of her walking away burned into his mind.

Chapter Text

“Chairs are not meant to be slept on.”

Her wise council fell on deaf ears. Her husband only grunted, not bothering to open his eyes. “I am not sleeping,” he grumbled, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. She could see his breath puff out in the dim light, and shivered. She felt colder just looking at him.

“That is because you are sitting in a chair,” she told him.

“There is no room on the bed.”

Faye sighed. “I had not thought I’d grown quite that large,” she replied in a resigned way, rolling onto her side. She pressed the heel of her palm into the side of her abdomen, and smiled in relief as she felt the baby push back in response.

At that, he opened his eyes. A difficult expression crossed his face; the kind she’d see when he wasn’t sure what to say. Faye reached her hand out, leaving it hanging off the bed in offering. “Come,” she insisted. “You won’t hurt me.”

“It is not you that worries me.” His eyes went to her belly, his jaw tightening.

She sat up, opening and closing her outstretched hand to him and smiling. “Bumbubúi is fine. He has woken up from his little hibernation and has not stopped moving since. I will show you.” It had even worried her, the total lack of movement for nearly a dozen days. It had driven her husband to sleep on all manner of inappropriate furniture and stay as far away from her as possible. But their son had resumed his somersaults in her belly and she was tired of watching Kratos move to the opposite corner of the room whenever she entered the cabin.

“You are certain it is a boy,” he said, mouth twitching in amusement, careful not to answer the unspoken question in her words.

“I am also certain you will not hurt him by sleeping in our bed,” she said, making her tone as commanding as she could while blinking away sleep in the middle of the night. “He survived the nudging before. He will again. He is strong.” She thrust her hand out further, the gesture insistent. He looked down at her outstretched fingers, considering his options.

“I will keep our son safe,” she whispered to him, recognising the fear he was so convinced he hid from her beneath his careful expression. “And I have grown tired of sleeping alone.”

He was silent. The fire burned low, and the only other light that filtered into the room was from the stars shining through the hatch on the roof overhead. Spring was fast approaching, but the nights were still achingly cold. Far too cold to be sleeping alone.

She felt his fingers grasp hers in the dark, and heard the creek of the chair as he stood up and moved quietly to their bed. Faye rolled so that her back faced him, and felt him curl around her, almost protectively. His knees brushed the back of hers, and his arm wrapped around her ribs. But he was still stiff, his body rigid and hard behind her. She pushed the heel of her palm into her side once more, then grabbed his wrist and pressed his hand over her belly. The baby moved again, wriggling under her dress in indignation at being disturbed. “He is fine,” she whispered, and she felt his soft exhale of relief stir up her hair. His hand stayed on her belly until the baby went still, as if making sure he hadn’t imagined it.

After a while she felt his body un-bunch from its tensing, and at some point his hand settled to cup under her breast in its regular resting place. They relaxed into each other as the mattress groaned beneath their combined weight, locked together like two slotted beams of a roof. Finally.

“He will be a boy,” she murmured, the heat of her husband at her back already lulling her into slumber. Then Faye grinned, unable to help herself. “And his name will be Loki.”

She felt the rumble of an amused grunt roll down her back as he quietly laughed. His hand slipped down to her belly once more, his palm hovering over it, not quite touching her. “I could not disagree more.”

“I am a patient woman,” she replied, closing her eyes. “You’ll come around to it.”

“I doubt it.”

“I don’t.”

She could sense the smile on him as he pressed his face into her hair. His breathing quickly evened out as he fell into a deep sleep, and she suppressed the urge to shake her head. “Silly man,” she murmured to him, threading her fingers through his, which had now finally settled properly over her belly. He would have a kink in his neck in the morning, she was sure of it. But he would be in the same bed as her while he complained about it, and that was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

He dreamed he was eating branches.

They didn’t have a taste to them, really, and there was no crunchy texture rubbing against his teeth, but they were huge and spindly, and the bark scraped his throat the entire way down. It made it difficult to breathe, and every time he tried, his lungs and throat and mouth burned. But he couldn’t stop eating the tree branches, no matter how much he wanted to.

Atreus woke up retching and coughing, rolling to the edge of the bed and bracing for a fall that never came. He wondered if he was still dreaming, but then he was tugged upright and sat down on his bed. He blinked, trying to see in the dark. The fire was burning, but it was blocked by the massive shoulder of his father, whose face was close enough to make out in the dim light. His hands gripped Atreus’ arms, too tightly to be comfortable. “You are alright,” his father said, more of a command than a reassurance.

“Mom,” he rasped, trying to see around his father, but his broad frame blocked everything else out.

“She is exhausted. Do not wake her."

The grip on his arms released and the fire came back into blinding focus as his father stood up and moved away from his bed. Atreus squinted and looked towards his parents’ bed, seeing his mother curled up, deep in sleep. He wheezed, forcing the air out of his lungs, and touched his neck with a tentative hand. No branches, no blood. He wanted to wake her up and tell her about the dream, but his father was still in the cabin. He looked over to the other side of their house, trying to see where he’d gone. Atreus didn’t know how his father could move so silently for someone so massive, and for a moment he swore he’d simply disappeared into the shadows.

He flinched a little when his father came back into view, his eyes burning from the fire, his skin too pale. Atreus has never seen an ogre before, but he was sure they couldn’t be any bigger than his father.

“Drink,” his father said, kneeling beside him and passing him a cup.

“I don’t—”

“Drink.”

Wondering how much noise it would take to wake his mother, Atreus took the cup and drained it. The water was icy and hit his belly like a spike, and he used it as an excuse to cough loudly into his arm. He felt his father’s grip on him again, but now he was lifting Atreus up and settling him against his shoulder. He continued to cough, partly to keep making noise and partly because his throat hurt, and kept his eyes on his mother’s sleeping form as his father walked them outside into the cold winter air.

He shivered violently at the chill. He was jostled around in his father’s arms, suddenly curled against his chest and covered by a massive bicep. Whenever Mom took him outside for fresh air she always brought a blanket, but it was like his father had his own fire inside of him, and it radiated out from his skin. Atreus didn’t know how. His father was only wearing a longshirt, and it barely reached his knees. He thought he could even see faint steam rising from his shoulders, but maybe it was just a trick from the light of the stars.

The winter air was a balm to his throat like it always was, and the coughing spasms began to die down. His breath came out in wheezes. It felt like there was only a few fingers of space in his lungs, and he couldn’t get in a full breath of air, but it was better than the stuffy, charcoaled air of the cabin.

“Fa—” His throat closed around the words, sending him into a fit of coughing again. He felt his father’s hand on his head, gentle this time.

“Do not speak,” he said quietly. “Breathe slow.”

“Can you—” He wheezed in, forcing the words out. “Can you sing?”

A pause. “Can I... sing?” he asked.

“Mother does it,” Atreus rasped, keeping his next cough inside his mouth. “It helps. She sings all kinds of lullabies.”

There was another pause. He couldn’t see his father’s face from this angle, and it was turned away, towards the trees. “I do not know any.”

“Oh.”

He concentrated on breathing and blocking out the sounds of the forest. With his ear against his father’s chest, he could hear and feel his every inhale and exhale, and it drowned out the howls of hungry animals and the whispers of freezing oaks that usually scared Atreus when they went outside at night. His father’s breathing was so much slower, so much steadier than his. The sound never wavered, and it never crackled like Atreus’ breathing did. He wondered what that felt like.

Despite the frigid air, he was warmer in his father’s arms than he had been in bed. Whenever his father came back from a hunt, his mother slept with less blankets, and now he understood why she was always so happy to sleep next to him. Maybe Atreus could start sleeping next to them, too. He’d never get goosebumps again.

“I do know one.”

He blinked his eyes open. The words had been so quiet Atreus would have thought he’d dreamed them had he not heard the change in breathing against his father’s ribs.

“Which one?” he asked, trying to keep his eyes open.

“Not one your mother knows,” his father replied, voice still oddly quiet.

“Can you sing it?”

There was another stretch of silence so long Atreus began to drift back to sleep again. His father’s breathing was calming to listen to, a nice alternative to a lullaby, and he played a game where he tried to time his exhales with his father’s. It didn’t work, really; for every one breath his father took, he had to take three. But it helped to calm the burning in his throat, so he kept trying anyway.

There was no way for him to know for sure if he was dreaming again when his father next broke the silence. The words he spoke were ones Atreus had never heard before. They were soft and fluid, like sea water over warm sand. The words had an odd rhythm to them, and he realised that his father must be singing the lullaby he’d said he knew. Atreus couldn’t understand what the words meant, but there was a deep, sweet melancholy in his father’s voice as he softly sang that made Atreus cling more tightly to him. The thought of his father being sad or afraid frightened him. He still couldn’t see his father’s face in the dark, but he could sense that he was looking at Atreus now, and he thought that if he could just see his face, he’d be able to know why his father sounded so mournful. He tried to keep his eyes open, to continue to listen to the sea-water-soft-sand lullaby so that he could memorize the words and ask his mother if she knew them, but his lids were heavy and he was swathed in the warmth of his father’s impossibly large arms. The unfamiliar words slipped away, and he fell back asleep with his ear pressed to his father’s chest, the song becoming more sensation than sound as they reverberated against his ribs.

Chapter Text

The snow fell around her like stars, fluttering and flickering in the breeze. She watched them as they landed lazily on her thighs and stomach, dewing almost immediately on her warm skin. She swept a droplet off of her breast with a finger and stuck it in her mouth, relishing the frosty taste of it. She was thirsty, but loathed the thought of moving. Faye let out a sigh and laid back against their makeshift bed, blinking back up at the sky. The snow kept falling, but the heat of her skin hadn’t released its hold on her body just yet, so the cool air was refreshing as opposed to painful.

The clang of a pot being used made her turn her head, toward the fire they’d forgotten. She smiled at the man standing over the spit, holding a pot filled with snow and wearing nothing more than the icy flakes falling from the sky. “You will catch a cold,” she said to him, looking at his bare feet.

He looked up from the pot, to her, then down at his feet. Then he smiled and gave her a pointed once-over in answer.

Faye rolled onto her stomach and waved a hand. Her hair stuck to her face in sweaty strands, and she brushed them away impatiently. “I was fine until you left.”

“I will not be long.”

“Usually men assure me of the opposite.”

He started and looked up at her again, her words drawing a surprised laugh from him. She grinned to herself as she reached out to her pack, shoving a hand inside and rooting around for a brush. The bubble of warmth she’d been enveloped in had already begun to evaporate—far too quickly for her liking—so she pulled her cloak up from where it had been kicked to her feet, throwing it around her shoulders as she sat up and brushed through the wreckage of her once-neat braid.

“You have known other men,” Kratos said. It was not a question.

“Does that concern you?” she asked, combing her hair out from her braid. It had gone frizzy from the sweat still not fully dry on her scalp, and she held back a sigh. It was unfortunate that she would have to bathe more often now, though she supposed the trade-off was worth it. She watched Kratos frown down at the pot he’d set over the fire, waiting for the snow to melt so they could have fresh water. The burns on his arms were doing well today, enough that he’d allowed them to be exposed to the open air. Perhaps the balm she’d made him was working.

He grunted, shrugging his shoulders in dismissal. “Chastity is the gods’ affairs.”

“Does that still not make it your own?” she asked with a grin. He shot her a look, clearly not amused.

“No.”

“No?” she continued, ignoring the glowering stare. “How so?”

He glanced down at the pot and lifted it from the spit’s hook. He walked it back over to their bedding and set it down beside Faye, then moved to grab cups from his pack. She set her brush down and shoved her hair away from her face with a hand, resolving to deal with it later.

“Because,” he said, sitting down beside her and passing her a wooden cup. “I have decided so.”

“How clever,” she remarked, dipping the cup into the pot and passing it to him, then dipping in the second. She took a drink, too thirsty to be bothered by the flat taste of meltwater.

“The gods’ concerns are not my own,” he said solemnly, draining his cup. Then his mouth twitched, and he shot her an amused glance. “And you do not act like any virgin I have known.”

“Oh, you know a lot of virgins?” She tossed her cup into the snowy grass beside her and laid back down again, curling up under her cloak. Kratos rolled onto his side next to her, wrapping an arm around her hip to pull her closer.

“Not many,” he admitted, and she could still hear the smile in his voice. “But enough to be certain you are not one.”

She laughed into his chest, pressing closer to him. The heat of his body was wonderful in the chilled air. Faye opened an arm and threw half of the cloak over him, eager to trap his warmth in the fabric.

“And I am confident to say the same of you,” she said, placing a kiss over a pockmark of scar tissue on his shoulder. His skin tasted of salt and the winter air.

“I believe you woke the birds,” he said, his chin brushing the crest of her head. The bristles of the beginning of a thick beard scratched against her hair. She reached a hand up to run over his jaw, laughing. The undercurrent of amusement was still present in voice, but it was now tempered with something far more smug.

“They wake me every morning,” she replied. “And now I have my revenge.” Faye sat up on an elbow, her thumb rubbing over the hair on his face. It whispered against the pad of her finger, coarse and rough. “Will you grow this out?” she asked.

“Perhaps,” he said, watching her carefully. “Do you like it?”

“It scratches my skin,” she mused, touching a hand to her own face, letting it trail down her throat along the same path he had travelled a few hours ago. There was a faint, residual burn on her skin from the thick stubble, like tiny raised welts.

“I will shave it in the morning,” he said, tugging her back down on their bedding.

“I never said I disliked it,” she said, tangling her leg between his. She felt the vibration of a chuckle with her ear against his chest. “Keep it. It suits you well. Much better than the chin scruff you had before.”

“It was popular in the south.” She felt his fingers weave their way into her hair, settling along the base of her skull and cupping her head to his chest. She settled into him, feeling sleep call to her.

“You are a real Norseman now, Farbauti. Wear yourself like one.”

“The fee for citizenship was to lie with a warrior?” he asked dryly.

“Mm,” she hummed. “And renewal is a daily affair, I’m afraid.”

“I am certainly not.”

Faye snorted, patting his chest. “Good. Go to sleep now. We will deal with that in the morning.”

She heard his breath hold for a moment, as if he were about to say something, then exhaled. It was a cue she could easily ignore if she wanted to. She squinted up at him instead. “What is it?”

“What you keep calling me,” he murmured. “Farbauti.”

“Your Norse name,” she explained, smiling at him.

“You have called me that since we met,” he said, facing up toward the night sky. A wry note slipped into his words as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. “Yet I have only just become a countryman.”

“I knew from when I first saw you that you had the potential in you,” she said, letting her lids slip close.

He was silent a moment. She let herself drift off with the wind around them, feeling the snow catch on her skin and hair but now too warm again for it to worry her.

“What does it mean?” he finally asked.

Her fingers rose up from underneath the cloak and traced the thick, crimson ribbon tattooed across his chest and shoulder. “It means lightning,” she whispered, and fell asleep before he could give an answer.

Chapter Text

“What does this say?”

The thumb trailing across her upper thigh was enough to tell her which tattoo he was asking about, but Faye still lifted her head off the pillow to give him an exasperated look. “I have lost count of the amount of times you have asked me that question.”

“I am quick to forget,” he said, eyes shining in the morning light. His head dipped down as his nose skimmed over her skin, across the umber- and charcoal-coloured runes carved into her body.

“‘Slow to listen’ is a much more apt assessment.” Her hand settled on his shoulder, her fingers worrying the lines of errant scar tissue that dotted his flesh. They were far less regular than her tattoos, but just as numerous. “And they mean ‘endurance’,” she said. “The runes on my thigh.”

“Mmm. How fitting.”

His mouth travelled further northward and she lost hold of her thoughts for a while. The dark wooden beams of their cabin came into sharp focus as she hooked a languid leg over his shoulder and tossed her head back on the pillow. He was taking his time, and she was more than content to lie there for a while.

Glittering dust danced in the morning light, a rich honey that cast everything in a soft yellow glow. The sight was as familiar as her own body, though having it coupled with the sensation of his mouth between her legs was a decidedly novel experience. A half-formed thought came to her as she coiled up on the bed: she had spent far too many seasons here in this cabin alone, and any chance to replace memories of lonely winters with breathless, sweaty springs would be seized immediately.

She felt his face settle into the dip of her hip as her lower belly quivered in the aftermath, his breath rushing in and out almost as shallowly as hers. She could feel the deep crescent marks she’d made on his shoulders and ran a gentle palm over them, smiling. Faye decided then that they would not leave this bed today unless absolutely necessary. There were fences to fix and fish to catch, but those things could wait, and she was confident Farbauti would be of the same mind. He placed messy, out-of-breath kisses on her hip, and she brushed her fingers across his cheek.

“I will teach you,” she whispered, still catching her breath. “How to read, and then you will stop asking.”

“I prefer this,” he said into her skin. His arm slipped under her leg, and he pressed his face into her thigh as he would a pillow. “You telling me the story of your skin over and over.”

“I have many stories,” she replied, letting her eyes slip closed. “And much more interesting than this.”

He grunted in disagreement. Faye let herself melt into the bed, grateful for the breeze blowing in through the windows. She could smell spring on the air, the scent of pollen and petrichor filling her nose. “It will be warm soon,” she said, not bothering to open her eyes.

“Warm,” he repeated, amusement in his voice. “If that is what you would call it.”

“Then what would you?”

“Less cold,” he said. The hand not wedged under her trailed down her leg, stopping at her knee. “What about this?” he asked, a finger tracing over the elder futhark. Apparently he was not interested in discussing the weather any further.

“‘Flexible’,” she supplied, and felt his grin as it spread against her skin. “It keeps my joints from creaking like an old woman’s.”

“That is one use for them.” His finger trailed to the line she’d drawn down her calf, disturbing the fine copper-coloured hair on her leg.

“‘Swift pace’,” she whispered, and then when he bent her leg to inspect the symbols on her feet, “and ‘silent step’.”

“And these help you fight?”

“I do not house on my body what is useless to me,” she answered. Her finger traced the line of his own tattoo up the back of his skull. “Here in the North we put ink on our skin for practical reasons.”

She felt his weight shift as he sat up on the bed, and she opened her eyes to look at him. The movement made the dust motes above his head dance and swirl in the air. He looked entirely too tempting, covered in little else besides the sunlight and a thin sheen of sweat, but she was not done with her teasing just yet.

Faye stuck a leg out, resting it against the hairy knee he had crossed on the bed, and made a show of looking at the dark lines and bands adorning her skin. “Not all of us have the luxury of being born a mountain,” she said, and saw him rolls his eyes in her periphery. “Some of us need a little help from the old magic.”

“I assure you I was smaller as a child.” His hand grasped her calf, his thumb pressing into the muscle in soothing circles.

She tried to picture him as a small, curious child and failed utterly. Any version of his life that did not have him suddenly springing into existence, fully grown with lines of age and scars of war already etched onto his skin, was incomprehensible. “That would have been awkward for your mother if you were not,” she mused.

There was no response from him, not even a derisive snort, and she looked up from his hand on her leg to his face. She saw the mask of stone descending upon his features as it always did when conversation moved into the territory of his life. She had found another boundary line, then. Good to know. “Come here, Farbauti,” she said, hooking the leg around his waist and pressing her heel into his back. “We are not done with your runic lessons yet.”

He rolled up onto his knees and then settled down on an elbow beside her. She reached out for his hand and his fingers easily twined with hers. “What about these?” he whispered, thumb running over the back of her hand. He looked grateful for the sudden change in conversation, and Faye smiled back at him.

“Steady strike,” she murmured. “One I know you know.”

His only response was an amused chuckle. She pressed her hip between his legs and felt the insistent throb of a response against her skin. His laugh turned into a groan as he pulled her closer, the kiss he’d been placing on her throat becoming a bite.

“We have many more still to get through,” she said, unable to keep the grin from her voice.

“That is enough for now,” he said, his hand moving to grip her waist tightly. She rubbed into him again and looked up at him. His face was close enough for his gaze to be little more than a heated hazel blur, and she used her leverage to press a kiss to his mouth. She tasted a hint of herself on his lips, and with a palm on his shoulder she flipped their positions.

“Very well,” she conceded, shoving him into the mattress and trapping him between her legs. Rough hands gripped her thighs, urging her to move. “We have all day to talk.”

Chapter Text

“Father,” Atreus said again, patiently. “You need to look.”

“I need to do nothing.”

Any chance for further argument was drowned out as his father shoved another impossibly large boulder into the divot Atreus had dug earlier that morning. The wall they were building around their cabin wasn’t anything like the mighty stone garðr that protected the realm of Asgard, or even as secure as the stave Mom had put up before, but it would be sturdy enough to keep Draugr away from their cabin. For the most part, anyway. But he was too old now to be scared of them anymore, so mostly was good enough for him.

“You’ll like this word,” Atreus insisted, making the letters he’d written in the mud more pronounced with another pass of his knife blade.

“Every day you say the same thing,” his father replied, testing the boulder so that it did not roll or wobble in place.

“That’s what daily means,” he said. “And today’s word of the day is drengr . It means warrior.”

His father did look up at that, but the expression on his face meant he knew what Atreus was playing at. Atreus didn’t care. He would teach his father how to read no matter how badly he fought against it.

“Come, see,” he said, waving him over. His father looked at the ground by Atreus’s knees, eyes passing over the elder futhark lettering carved into the mud. He stood for a moment, long enough that Atreus began to wonder if he’d simply turn around and go back to building their makeshift wall, but then his father took a knee beside him. He forced the grin off of his face and cleared his throat.

“Okay,” he said, steadying his hands as he mentally ran through the rough lesson plan he’d devised that morning. “You pronounce it ‘ drengr’. The first letter is that symbol with the two triangles that meet at the tips. That makes a d sound, and it’s called dagaz . It also means day by itself, but we’ll get to that later. And then there’s this symbol—” he pointed in the mud with the tip of his blade. “The line with the zig-zag attached to it. That makes an r sound, which is why it’s also at the end of the word. Then this one is makes an e sound. Drengr,” he repeated, looking up at his father. “Do you remember what this one is?” He pointed to the next letter with his knife; a vertical line intersected by a diagonal one.

His father nodded. “Naudiz,” he said, the word coming out a little warped at the end .

Atreus nodded, grinning. “Yeah! You remember!”

His father’s mouth twitched, and he got up from his kneeling position. “That is enough for today.”

“We can start doing sentences soon,” Atreus said, pushing up from the ground and following after him. “You’re catching on pretty quickly, so—”

“I have learned to read before, boy.” He lead them towards the next mass of rock near the southern edge of their yard. Atreus couldn’t really push all that much, so he helped his father with digging shallow lines and divots in the dirt to keep the stone stable instead. And slipping in grammar lessons when possible.

“Yeah, you mentioned that before. Maybe—” He paused, considering his question.

His father did not wait for him to finish his sentence. “Stand there,” he said, pointing. Atreus did as he was told and watched his father lift the first slab of stone and drag it to the marked patch of earth where it would rest. Once they were done fortifying the yard around their home, they’d build gates to open up into the woods for hunting.

And training. Atreus couldn’t wait for that. He knew there wouldn’t be anything so difficult as dragons or gods in the wildwoods for them to fight, so he knew they’d be able to beat whatever stalked the forest. And then maybe, once they’d killed all the Draugr and Hel-Walkers around, they could venture out again. They had lots of time for training now, and he was more than happy to show his father how much he’d learned from their journey. Mimir had told him he’d help with figuring out how his powers would manifest, too. They just needed to finish the wall.

He’d become lost in thought, and when he blinked back into focus, his father had travelled further south into the woods. He could hear the crack and snap of dried branches, and the thunder of stone moving across the earth. Atreus remembered hearing the same sound before, when his father had fought Baldur and he’d hid beneath the floorboards of their home. He felt his nails dig into his palm as he made a fist and forced himself to relax. The sound didn’t scare him now.

He dashed over to his father, his feet finding the ever-familiar path through the thick roots of the forest. He still knew these woods like no other, except now he didn’t have to stay close to the cabin or run back inside at sunset. He felt strong.

Atreus skidded to a halt as his father settled another slab of stone in place. They had more loose stone left over from his fight with Baldur than they would ever need, and it made for sturdy wall-building. The boulders were taller and thicker around than even his father was.

“Maybe,” he said again, watching his father sit down on a fallen tree trunk and wipe his brow. Atreus passed him the water pouch he’d been carrying, and he nodded gratefully. “Maybe you can teach me the language you knew. The one you said you could read, I mean. Spartan?” he guessed.

When his father pulled the water canister away from his mouth, he was smiling faintly. “No. Elliniká.”

Atreus frowned at the unfamiliar word, rolling his tongue around in his mouth as he repeated it silently to himself.

“Greek,” his father said, switching back to Norse. “The language of Greece.”

“Oh.” Atreus sat down opposite his father, crossing his legs as he sat on the ground. “Can you teach it to me?”

“It has been long since I spoke it last,” he replied, emptying the water container. They must be done for the day, then. Atreus looked up at the sky and noticed that it was only midday, but he kept that observation to himself as his father spoke again. “There is much I have forgotten.”

“Well, you can teach me what you remember,” Atreus reasoned. “Maybe some of it will come back to you.”

“Maybe,” his father agreed. Atreus noticed the hoarseness of his breath, and the sheen of sweat on his skin. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his father look visibly tired; not before Mom had died, anyway.

“We should head back,” Atreus said, standing up. He wondered if he should offer his hand to his father, but he stood up before he could make a decision. His gait was steady enough, but he moved slower than he usually did.

“Come, then.”

Atreus lead the way back to their cabin, though it was only a short walk. He could hear his father’s breathing behind him, his footsteps unnaturally heavy. He finally moved as loudly as it looked like he should, Atreus mused, unsure whether to be worried or not.

When he spotted the door of their home, he raced off towards it and shoved it open. “Mimir!” he called, smiling at the head settled on their table.

Mimir grinned back at him. “Lad. Bit early to be back, isn’t it?”

Atreus shrugged. “Father was done for today.” He strung up his bow on the hook by his bed and went to their tiny larder for a snack. He’d been trying to make the sweetbread Mom used to make, but it was hard when he didn’t have the recipe. He rummaged around in the box and found cured meat instead. It would do for now until he could make them a proper meal.

“And where is your da, then?” Mimir asked. “I don’t see him.”

Atreus looked back up to the door, and frowned when he saw it was empty. “Oh. He was right behind me.”

He stepped outside and saw his father walking the worn path to the cabin. The sunlight reflected harshly off the snow and threw his father’s features in sharp relief, highlighting the lines of aging on his skin and the grey hairs in his beard that seemed more numerous than they had before. Atreus thought he looked terribly old and slow in that moment, and a spike of fear punctured his belly. He shoved the meat in his pocket, suddenly not hungry, and ran up to his father. “You okay?”

His expression was unreadable, but his eyes were dull with pain. “I am fine,” came the immediate response. Atreus fell in line with his father and walked with him back to the cabin again, making sure not to walk ahead.

“Because you don’t look fine,” he continued. “Did you hurt yourself move the stone?”

“No.”

They made it back inside in twice the time it had taken Atreus to walk there before, and his father went immediately to the bed to sit down. He watched him roll his shoulder, clench his teeth in pain, and then unhook the straps of his armour. Atreus snuck a look at Mimir and saw that he was just as puzzled.

“There is a tin,” his father said, setting the axe down on the bed beside him as he unbuckled his pauldron. “Beside your mother’s books. Bring it here.”

Atreus nodded and climbed onto the table to reach the bookshelf, feeling for the tin. It was surprisingly heavy, but he jumped down and passed it to his father without a word. He’d gotten his pauldron off, and Atreus saw the angry red puncture in his skin, just under his clavicle. It was oozing blood and looked inflamed. He felt his throat close as he realised what the wound was from.

“My arrow,” he said, watching his father unhitch the lid of the tin and rub the balm inside of it onto his skin. “Where I….”

“I have many wounds that still have not closed up,” his father said, looking up at him. “They are not healing as quickly as they once did.”

Atreus’ hand went to his own bicep, feeling for the fresh scar where Baldur had shoved his knife into him. It was still tender, but it didn’t bother him enough to slow him down. “Because you’ve had so many,” Atreus said, sitting down on the bench by their dinner table. “And I gave you one.”

“You did.”

Atreus looked at him. He felt his chin wobble and he clenched his teeth. He would not cry in front of his father. He wasn’t a little kid anymore. “I—I’m….” His hands balled into fists on his legs, and he forced himself to look at the injury. “I’m so stupid,” was what he was able to get out.

“Foolish,” his father corrected, and Atreus tore his gaze away to meet his eyes. “But not stupid.”

“I’d take it back,” Atreus told him. “I swear I would... if I could.”

Hid father’s face softened. “I know.”

Atreus pulled his legs up to his chest and watched his father finish tending to the injury. It wasn’t the only thing bleeding, either. There was the wound in his hip where Baldur had stabbed him, and dozens of other bruises and welts and gashes that had yet to heal properly marking his body. How could he have not noticed them before?

“Don’t beat yourself up about it too much, little brother,” Mimir whispered beside him. “We’ve all done things we regret.”

“You shot your dad with an arrow, too? On purpose?” he said angrily, blinking hard. He was not crying.

“Well, no. But I’ve done a lot of things I wish I could take back.” Mimir sighed and gave him a tired smile. “The important thing is that you recognise your mistakes and strive not to make them again.”

“The head is right,” his father said, and Atreus looked over at him. “There is great honour in taking responsibility for your actions.”

“Doesn’t feel like it,” he muttered, resting his chin on his knees.

“Aye,” Mimir agreed. “It rarely does. Wouldn’t help you much if it felt good, though.”

“I guess.”

He was silent as his father put his pauldron back on and stood up from the bed. He rotated his leg, hissing in pain at the damage in his hip, and slipped a hand under his belt to press some of the same balm into the wound. The tangy smell of dried herbs and lard filled the cabin, though Atreus had never smelled anything like it before. He thought it was similar to what the inside of Freya’s house smelled like, but he was certain his father hadn’t gotten the balm from there.

“What is that?” he asked, pointing to the tin on the bed.

“A salve your mother made me,” his father said. His eyes soften like they always did when he talked about Mom, and one of his hands wrapped around his forearm. “For the burns on my arms. It staves off infection.”

“Oh.”

His father handed him the tin when he was done with it and Atreus jumped up on the table to place it back carefully on the shelf beside Mom’s books. His eyes passed over the faded runes written down the spines of the books, and he swallowed hard. The next time I reach up here, it’ll be for a book we can read together.

“Polemistís.”

Atreus turned around, looking back at his father. Standing on the table, he didn’t have to crane his neck so much to meet his eyes. “What’s that mean?”

“It means warrior,” his father said. He smiled then, enough for it to show through his greying beard. “Your word of the day.”